Summertime is knocking softly on our doors. Can you hear it? Are you listening? The softest scent of lilacs fills our backyard and breezy bug-less evenings (my favorite kind) are making eating outside a welcome treat. Especially here on our little stone patio in quaranBEEn.
I am southern born, but northern raised. A mutt really: a mix of southern manners and NJ brash, but my mother Ina was the real deal steel magnolia.
As a little girl, my thank you notes were written by me, edited by her, and then re-written if they were not warm enough, appreciative enough, humble enough. She chose cloth napkins over paper, china over plastic, and had a southern accent that never faded, not even after decades of living up north. Every night, even in quarantine, after dinner, and before bed, I do a cold wash of our linen dinner napkins and think to myself that my tiny, blond mother Ina would approve.
When I was learning to drive, she taught me that if I were driving with a man, even if it were my own car being driven, to always throw my keys to him and to let him drive (ask Bazz if that one stuck). She had always done that, Jackie O had done it, and so too would her daughter if she had anything to do with it.
Also, I was to nevAH, evAH, chew gum in public. “JU LI AAAAANE!” She would scold laughing, “You’re chewin like Trashy Tricksie.” Ina stroked her inner southerner like a small lap dog. It was part of her, she hid behind it like an elaborate Mardis Gras mask, she used it to flirt, she even used it to manipulate. A tiny blond southern spitfire in Essex County, NJ is a rare sighting after all. Kinda like a magnolia in a snowstorm.
My parents loved to entertain year round. When they did in summertime, the deck off of our house was elegant yet casual, lit by what felt like hundreds of tea lights, flooded with flowers, and NO ONE ever left hungry.
Their friends would gather, champagne was popped, and the grill was lit for her famous Vidalia onions.
There was no Whole Foods, no online shopping. Every year, she waited eagerly for my nana to start shipping those sweeter-than-candy Georgia onions huddled together in their orange mesh bags. They brought her closer to home, closer to her parents, closer to the red clay earth that she was tethered to.
Her family and her dinner guests benefited from them all summer long, under the fairy lights on that wooden deck off of the kitchen on Hoskier Road.
A little sugar, a little salt, a pale yellow pat of butter, and a tinfoil pocket for them to cozy into nestled on that flame. Sometimes she drizzled balsamic over them. The sticky sweet and thick vinegar oozing over their softening caramelized flesh.
Not one person on that deck had ever experienced anything like my mother’s Vidalia Onions. Years later, after my parents divorced, and the house on Hoskier Road belonged to others, she would make them on her small garden terrace in Manhattan. It didn’t feel like they belonged there, just as Ina never really belonged in NJ. We ate them anyway. Mother and daughter framed against the skyline of New York City, my father long gone, along with their guests and the bubbles in that pale golden champagne.
Today I make them as a nod to the ultimate southern bell, my mother. And as a nod to my nana who would schlepp those bags of onions, sobbing in her car as she drove them to the post office, not from their smell, but from the pain of losing her daughter and her firstborn granddaughter to the north. And I make them to show my own children, that indeed, southern cuisine is alive. It is part of their mother, it runs deep red in my veins just like that Georgia clay, and it lives and loves, it remembers, and it writes, deep in the woods of Westchester.
The Bee’s Knees Vidalia Onions
- 1 Large Vidalia Onion
- 1 pat Unsalted Butter
- 1 tsp Sugar
- Kosher Salt to taste
- High-Quality Balsamic Vinegar optional (find my lick-your-plate favorite below)
- Pre-heat your grill to 450-500°.
- Peel back and trim outer layer of Vidalia skin, cutting off the top and the bottom of onion so that it can sit upright.
- Place onion on a sheet of aluminum foil and season generously with kosher salt.
- Place one teaspoon of sugar on top of the onion (this should look like a little mound of sugar).
- On top of sugar, add a pat of butter (Ina always used unsalted).
- *Optional* If you'd like, before closing the pocket, drizzle a high-quality balsamic vinegar over your onion (click here for the one that Jule's family cannot live without).
- Bring up the sides of the aluminum foil, wrapping your onion.
- Pinch your aluminum foil pocket closed with your fingertips, and place directly onto a heated grill grate. If you have an upper shelf, Jule likes to rest them there. They'll need approximately 45 minutes to an hour, depending on their size. You can check them at 45 minutes; they should be fork-tender and starting to blacken. Don't be afraid to allow them to go for an additional 15 minutes. Remember, onions are sweet but tough, just like Ina.
Summertime is knocking, and so is Father’s Day. Click below for Jule’s favorite items to grill with and what she’s eyeing for Bazz!
All illustrations by @courtneycoloring.